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The Wreck of
the Sujameco

(as appeared in the March 1999
issue of The Whole Shebang)

story by Ann Koppy
photos courtesy of Coos County Historical Museum


North of the New Carissa on the North Spit lie the remains of a ship that went aground seventy years ago. The steamship Sujameco wrecked on what is now Horsfall Beach in March 1929. Visitors can view the rusting hulk when winter storms scour the beach and expose her outline.

Submarine Boat Corporation of Newark, New Jersey designed and constructed the Sujameco for their fleet in 1920, but she was under charter to Transmarine Line, New York when she stranded. The 324' Sujameco had left Newark in January. She was bound from San Francisco to Coos Bay in ballast with a crew of 32 men and officers. Her destination was the McGeorge Dock to load fir for the East Coast.

At 9:30 am, the ship sent a radio message to the Coos Bay Wireless Telegraph station in North Bend, indicating she had grounded. Coast Guard Lifeboat Stations on the Umpqua and Siuslaw Rivers immediately initiated a beach search. By 10 am the fog had begun to lift and the Coast Guard Lookout reported seeing a ship in the breakers about eight miles north of the Coos Bay bar. The Coos Bay and Umpqua River Lifeboat Stations dispatched a powerboat and apparatus.


Pictured at left & below: The Sujameco settles into her final resting place.

Captain John F. Carlson reported his position as fifty miles north of Cape Arago. Nevertheless, the U.S. Compass Station, a direction finder facility, reckoned he was close to the shoreline and advised him to change course. By then, the vessel was already in shallow water and couldn't turn. She ran headfirst into the breakers and stayed in that position for eighteen hours. Waves then turned her broadside; she came to rest on the sandy beach, her bow pointing south. Captain Carlson later claimed he had steamed past the bar in thick fog, turned around, and was maneuvering south at full speed when the ship went aground.
 
At first, few people realized the extent of the predicament. No roads led to the beach and anyone wanting to see the wreckage walked on the North Spit, sandhills, Southern Pacific railroad bridge, or went by boat. The crew was in no immediate danger and stayed aboard. Three or four days later, newspapers estimated that upwards of 1,000 people had toured the scene. Every available tug and launch on Coos Bay transported visitors to Jarvis Landing.

Rescue efforts came from many sources. The British steamer Kelvinia was about forty miles away and answered the call for help. The Coast Guard cutter Red Wing from Astoria, dredge P.S. Michie, tugs Arrow No. 3 and Klihyam used lines, cables, and anchors. Oil and water were pumped out. Nevertheless, all valiant efforts failed. In the meantime, the current moved the ship southward.

Several years ago, Marguerette Therrien Boyd offered her memories of the Sujameco. At the time, she was married to Henry Brainard, a Coast Guard Surfman. The Coast Guard Station in Charleston had assigned watchmen, including Mr. Brainard, to patrol the beach near the grounded ship. Mrs. Boyd set off from Empire to stay with her husband. A small, 8' high wooden cabin for the guards had been built. A big tarp buried in the sand protected against strong winter winds and a breeches buoy from the ship carried hot meals to shore. Only three or four men at a time could leave the steamer. They sang, accompanied by their harmonicas and guitars and gave her books, perfume, and a silk handkerchief. She never went aboard although it was possible to wade to the ship at low tide.

The saga dragged on for several weeks. The Sujameco began to list and work her way closer to shore. The steamboat inspection service suspended Captain Carlson's license for sixty days. Most of the crew remained aboard for the duration, homesick and weary. Local Boy Scouts of Troop 19 tried to relieve the crew's monotonous days by providing magazines and newspapers. Four officers announced plans to sue the Sujameco's owners for breach of contract. Finally, Lloyds of London, the underwriter, took over. The insurer had spent about $150,000 before selling the wreckage to Pacific Salvage Company in May. 
The firm removed the engine, boilers, and everything else of value and left the hull to time and tide.
Much of the remainder was cut up for scrap metal during World War II to aid the war effort. Today, the site is easily accessible from the parking lot at Horsfall Beach in the Oregon Dunes National Recreation Area. A short walk over the dune leads directly to this lonely, mute reminder of the hazards of coastal shipping.